Helen Freeston tells us why Paris Smith is part of Luxury South
Paris Smith has been a loyal Champion of Business South from the very beginning, and 2018 saw them celebrate their 200th anniversary!
Why is Paris Smith a champion of Business South and involved in the Luxury South Action Group?
We’ve been a champion of Business South from the outset. Our former senior partner, Malcom Le Bas, was instrumental in helping set up the organisation. We have been there as it has grown, and more action groups have been created to promote the best of the region and the talent in our midst. Paris Smith is pleased to be a member of the Luxury South Action Group. I am delighted to sit on the panel with a wonderful mix of people who contribute to what the ‘Luxury Sector’ looks and feels like in the South.
How does your knowledge and experience as the Marketing Director at Paris Smith support the Luxury South initiative?
Having been at Paris Smith for over 17 years, the experience I have gained while working at the firm has given me opportunities to organise and attend high quality events and meet many of our clients and stakeholders. Whether it’s in the property sector, or working with businesses or individuals, I have developed the skills to communicate with those individuals through the right platforms. I have found that my experience in knowing what appeals to them and how to approach them is invaluable.
Luxury means different things to different people, but how do you define luxury?
It differs from industry to industry. You can have a luxury ice cream for example and that’s not in the same category as a luxury hotel, or boats or cars. But they are commonly perceived to be the best in their field. We believe that it is about being the best you can be at what you offer and ensuring that the client or customer has an exceptional experience to remember, thereby differentiating us from competitiors.
Why is the South a great place to have a luxury business?
If you look at the country as a whole, I think that the perception is that the South is where the wealth is. The ultimate goal is to inspire and encourage people to view Southampton and the surrounding areas as a destination. We want the city and the Central South with its rich culture, heritage and opportunities to be a “go-to” destination. I think the South is great at being authentic and that’s replicated with luxury brands. Being true to where you come from is really important for luxury. By way of example, many of the quality hotels and eateries in the region offer locally sourced and grown produce. It’s also important to recognise how time precious people are in today’s society. Many people live here but still travel to London for other leisure activities such as shopping. I want to do all we can to ensure people feel the desire to stay here, and if they are time poor how can we fix it. The objective is to identify why some luxury brands choose to be in the South, why some don’t and what we can do to understand and address the reasons. We want our current luxury brands to grow in the area and for the South to be viewed as a region in which more luxury brands seek to do business here and see the benefits of doing so.
Paris Smith celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018. Tell us a bit about what you did to celebrate and why you felt it was important to do so.
Our bicentennial anniversary was a huge milestone in the firm’s history. We have immense pride in this achievement and the role we have played across the region over the two centuries. We recognised that we wouldn’t have made it to 200 years without our staff and our clients. It was hugely important that both had to be celebrated equally. We began the year with staff engagement as we wanted everyone on board and excited to be a part of the journey with us. The first activity we did was a Willy Wonka-style prizegiving in which five golden tickets were hidden in 1818-branded chocolate bars to represent the year Paris Smith was formed and given to every member of staff. This gave everyone the chance to win a prize in keeping with ‘who we are’, of a dinner, bed, breakfast and spa break at Chewton Glen, which is a real treat.
In April we wanted to do something to recognise our responsibility to the environment so at Easter we pledged to reduce our plastic usage, abandoning all plastic cups in the firm and giving everyone a reusable water bottle.
May saw us give staff a big summer party which was such a success we have now moved our annual party from December in favour of a summer celebration.
This event preceded our landmark event of the year in June which was a gala dinner at the O2 Guildhall in Southampton, which was two years in the planning. We took a venue which might not have been particularly highly thought of and turned it into something spectacular. Our 500 guests included our clients, key business leaders and stakeholders from the region. The attention to detail was second to none offering guests a four-course dinner, live musical performances throughout the evening, providing music from 200 years ago right up to the present day with a pyrotechnics and confetti finale! The event video is now something the venue has been using as a case study to promote itself.
In November we hosted our annual charity conference with the theme of governance with integrity. This attracted over 300 delegates and speakers representing differing roles within charities including patrons, chair of trustees, chief executives and fundraisers. Our key note speaker was a philanthropist who has followed her passion and developed a charity to further her cause and purpose.
One of our proudest moments of the 200th year was having supported the Murray Parish Trust in partnership with Southampton Hospital Charity as our charity of the year and contributing to it reaching its £2 million target to create a new state of the art Children’s Emergency and Trauma Department at University Hospital Southampton.
Paris Smith has led legal aspects on a number of landmark projects in the city over the last 200 years. Why is it so important for Paris Smith to identify and get involved with opportunities of growth within the region?
It’s really at the heart of what Paris Smith stands for and as part of our 200th year celebrations we conducted interviews with a number of our clients for whom one can see a recognisable difference in which we have enabled the clients to achieve success and reach their goals. This aligns with our purpose as a law firm to influence and create successes by working with our team of experts. Our cause is underpinned by our values encapsulated in the acronym SPIRIT, service, professionalism, integrity, respect, innovation and trust. We enjoy working with and for businesses which share these values. We are committed to playing our role in creating a legacy being an environment and region in which future generations can thrive.
How important do you think it is for other businesses in the area to get involved with local activities, events, projects etc?
I’m really proud of our reputation and I’ve often heard behind the scenes ‘we’ve only done it because you’re doing it’, which is great for organisers to be able to call upon us and say we could really do with some additional support, who can you recommend. I think we are fortunate that many of the other professions including accountancy and finance want to work with us because they know we do a good job and they know we’ve got a good following and make things happen. My key bit of advice would be for other businesses to know the marketplace and pair up with people and events which are relevant to them. Everything has a journey and a place. It is crucial to understand who you are but also to get out there and help grow the city and wider region.
Where do you see opportunities for growth within the region in the future?
Collaboration is key. We should follow our city’s leaders vision, strategy and direction. Each of the cities in our region have special qualities and economic drivers unique to them. Of course, in the Solent our unique selling points include marine, leisure and the surrounding natural economy. I wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, but I would certainly use that as the flagstone for what sets us aside from other cities. It needs to be considered how those areas can be grown collectively but also identify what is missing in the region. What do other cities have, what are we lacking and what do we need to bring to our cities? It’s down to us, it’s our responsibility to make this a better place for us to all work, live, and play in and create a place which is better for our children and our children’s children so they have no reason to leave. We need to retain the wonderful talent which this region creates.
The Luxury South Action Group is newly formed but it’s something that I’m truly excited to be a part of and see how it develops. We’ve got a clear strategy and I can’t wait to see the impact like-minded business people can bring to the Central South.